TIFF 2010: Legend of the Fist: Return of Chen Zhen review
Watching LEGEND OF THE FIST: RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN is like watching Donnie Yen masturbate to photos of Bruce Lee while staring at himself in a mirror. Rarely has a movie this racist, this gory, this self-satisfied and with this many close-ups of Shu Qi been so boring, but LEGEND OF THE FIST: RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN is so packed with cliches, so stuffed with under-rendered digital effects and so clogged with half-baked plotlines that it induces yawns where it wants to provoke fist-pumping nationalism.
The story has been told before. Bruce Lee played Chen Zhen back in 1972′s FIST OF FURY, and then Jet Li played him in 1994′s FIST OF LEGEND, directed by Gordon Chan who wrote and produced LEGEND OF THE FIST: RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN. By now there are so many "Legends" and "Fists" spinning around that you're probably thoroughly confused, but here's one more to add: in 1995, Donnie Yen played Chen Zhen in the TV series, FIST OF FURY. Now, Andrew Lau and Donnie Yen have teamed up with Shu Qi, Anthony Wong and Hung Bo to make a big, posh bid for IP MAN-level box office by making their own anti-Japanese period movie about a legendary Chinese figure. The only problem is that the movie they've created is boring. Oh, and racist, too.
In LEGEND OF THE FIST, all Japanese people are rapists, cowards, prone to violence and hateful to all things Chinese. At least Jet Li's FIST OF LEGEND gave us some virtuous Japanese characters to round things out, but LEGEND OF THE FIST dispenses with that and exchanges it for Donnie Yen uttering Bruce Lee yelps and shouting, apropos of nothing, "Chinese are not the sick men of Asia." However, I want to give Donnie Yen some credit here: he is the only thing worth seeing in this movie. Andrew Lau's direction feels phoned-in, Shu Qi delivers her umpteenth giggly girl/woman performance that is really getting tired these days and no one else gets much screen time.
But except for a great opening action sequence in the first five minutes, it's all downhill from there. Donnie Yen is a terrific choreographer of his own action, and there are some real touches of humor and creativity in a few sequences in the middle. But the final fight is just more of the same, almost shot-for-shot, from FIST OF LEGEND and FIST OF FURY with almost nothing new added. I'm not sure why people are giving a movie this plodding and poorly made a pass, but I wish they wouldn't. A movie this lousy requires everyone who cares about having fun in a movie theater to squeeze their eyes shut and wish it away.
The credits bill Yasuaki Kurata but fortunately he is limited to appearing in two shots in a flashback. Kurata has class, and the movies that made him a star in the 80′s and 90′s may be crude and obvious (it would be hard to get closer to a Three Stooges martial arts movie than Sammo Hung's Millionaire's Express in which Kurata appears) but they also possessed a certain amount of humor and grace, they had charm and a lightness of touch. LEGEND OF THE CHEN ZHEN FIST OF LEGEND has all the lightness of touch of getting a backrub from a bulldozer.
Anthony Wong turns in something resembling a performance and manages to almost extract an actual character from all this mess, and Huang Bo is doing his best with bad material. But seriously, this movie is just a snooze. The stretches between the action scenes are interminable, and the action scenes themselves get worse as the movie progresses, which is sort of the opposite of what you want to have happen.
Everyone involved has been better. Hell, even HOLY VIRGIN VS THE EVIL DEAD looks like a masterpiece in comparison. The only legend on display in this movie is its own Legend of Stinkiness.